The Unbearable Life Without God
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news is not good. A Governor of a large state throws everything
away for a few hours of hidden pleasure with an expensive
prostitute. Common sense would suggest such behavior is
insane, but is it? Or a presidential candidate spins a tall
tale about her brush with sniper fire on an official trip
to war torn Bosnia. But TV cameras had followed her to Bosnia
and the footage reveals that she had made the whole story
up. How could she believe that she would not be found out?
History is littered with powerful people wrecking their
own lives as well as the lives of countless others. And
we are not even counting the rest of us. Why is this? What
is it about human nature that reveals a compulsion to succumb
to self destructive forces that contradict reason and common
sense? Have lying and adultery suddenly become acceptable
as a new moral norm or is something more troubling and insidious
in play? Is this a problem for our time only or has it been
a problem since the beginning of history?
At one point in his new book The Devil's Delusion, David
Berlinski addresses these questions from the perspective
of Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky's famous novel The Brothers
Karamazov: In that novel the question is asked: What happens
if God does not exist? The answer: If God does not exist,
then everything is permitted. Berlinski goes on to tell
a story about an elderly Hasidic Jew who was commanded by
an SS guard to dig his own grave. When he had finished digging,
the Jewish man stood up straight and addressed his executioner:
"God is watching what you are doing," he said. And then
Berlinski wrote: "And then he was shot dead." If God does
not exist, everything is permitted.
Berlinski goes on to say this: "What Hitler did not believe
and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe
and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did
not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the
commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi
doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown
Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks
did not believe that God was watching what they were doing.
And as far as we can tell, very few of these carrying out
the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that
God was watching what they were doing either."(The Devil's
Delusion pp 26-27)
Those who would have us believe that God is a delusion,
never tell us about the downside, for there are dark potentials
that seems to reveal themselves in daily headlines with
alarming frequency. In a world where everything is permitted,
"everything" must include holocausts, mass starvation, atomic
weapons and every other instrument of crime, large and small,
known to man. If the world is godless, where are we meant
to place our bets? Surely the relevant evidence would suggest
that the innate goodness of human nature is a very thin
reed to build hope upon.
The biblical diagnosis is as bleak as Berlinski's. Unredeemed
mankind's descent into darkness has no limits, for without
God, everything is permitted: This is the way it has been
from the earliest days of liberated man restlessly wandering
the earth. "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the
earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts
of his heart was only evil all the time."(Genesis 6:5) Jeremiah,
the great prophet of Israel tells us that "the heart is
deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, catalogues a litany of
horrors that we can expect when godless men’'futile thinking
darkens their hearts. (Romans 1:21) What is interesting
is that Paul does not exempt himself from the probability
of falling prey to the desires of a rebellious heart: "When
I want to do good, evil is right there with me…waging war
against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the
law of sin at work in my members." (Romans 7:21-23) But
whereas the godless indulge the dark inclinations of a corrupt
heart, Paul wages war against such inclinations through
the power of the Holy Spirit.(Romans 8) Elsewhere, he says
that we are to live as free men, but warns that we should
not use our "freedom to indulge the sinful nature."(Galatians
5:13) The Bible reveals that man is utterly and hopelessly
lost because he has abandoned God in pursuit of a lie.
When God is expelled, the heart naturally turns to indulging
itself by becoming blind to the voracious appetites of our
human nature. Everything is permitted. Who will see? Who
will hear? Who will judge? Nobody is the answer we want
to hear because then we are like God indulging ourselves
in the most ungodly ways.
"They encourage each other in evil plans; they talk about
hiding their snares; they say, 'Who will see them?' They
plot injustice and say, 'We have devised a perfect plan!'
Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning."(Psalm 64:5-6)
It is only when we know that we are known that we pause
in our pursuit of our own dark desires. This picture of
the other side of human potential is a necessary anecdote
to the relentless tide of opinion that would have us believe
that a world without God would be a better place. History
is littered with the corpses of such deluded promises, and
we should resist the temptation to fall into the first sin
of believing the devils claim that "you will be like God,
knowing good and evil."(Genesis 3:5) For we know that the
devil will keep part of that promise. "Be self-controlled
and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring
lion looking for someone to devour."(1Peter 5:8)
The psalmist says, "The fool says in his heart, 'there is
no God'" Then he says, "They are corrupt, their deeds are
vile; there is no one who does good."(Psalm 14:1) But elsewhere,
a different more hopeful picture is painted: "What is man
that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care
for him. You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor."(Psalm 8:4-5)
Man without God is a fool; man under God is capable of being
crowned with glory and honor. Take your pick. The evidence
would suggest that there is no real choice at all.
About the Author: Eric Kampmann received
an undergraduate degree from Brown University and a graduate
degree in English at Stony Brook. Eric is the author of
two other books: Tree of Life (2003) and The Book Publisher’s
Handbook (2007). For information on his newest book, Trail
Thoughts, visit: Trail
Published - April 2009
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